Empowering Equestrians to Train their own horse with 100% Force Free & Horse Friendly methods

Posts tagged ‘disrespect’

The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons (3/5)

Often when I watch people ride I see struggle. I see a lot of frustration and it seems so difficult to learn how to ride. Truth is, that is is in the way riding is taught (in general), but it doesn’t have to be like this. Riding and learning to ride can be relatively easy and effortlessly if only these prerequisites were met. Riding certainly doesn’t have to be a struggle what it seem to be for most riders.

5 Things I would like to see more of in today’s riding lessons are:

  • Independent seat
  • Schoolmasters
  • Facts about horse behaviour
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Attention for the horses emotions

Facts about horse behaviour

If you are a horse behaviourist and you’re watching a riding lesson you hear a lot of nonsense about horse behaviour being taught to riders. I wish all instructors had to write at least one paper about natural horse behaviour before they are allowed to teach.

_Horse_behaviour_hippologicMost famous ones are the ‘be the leader’-myth and the ‘don’t let him win’-myth that refer to the idea of one alpha horse that makes all the decisions and is the dominant horse of the herd. There is no such thing in a herd. Yes, horses can behave dominant in certain situations, but decisions when to move and were to go are more based on a (part of the) group decision.

Instructors make riders believe that they have to ‘dominate’ the horse all the time. How? By being dominant in a way people are by using pain inflicting methods such as kicking the horse forward or using whips and spurs to make the horse obey. It just breaks my heart…

This is not only cruel to the horse but it is unnecessary too. I also think that most riders (who start riding because they love horses) are made insecure by behaving ‘dominant’. Horse lovers want to bond and connect with their horses.

The good news is: you can develop a friendship and still ride your horse safely. Horse lovers don’t like to inflict pain to horses, but they do so because they are taught to by the instructor, so they are acting against their own gut feeling. That’s never a good feeling.

Horses are highly social animals

The reason horses could be domesticated in the first place is because of their social structure. They depend on their herd members for survival and they are ‘hard-wired’ to work together.

If a horse doesn’t follow a cue there is always a reason:

 

  • They don’t understand the cue. All riders are different and not all riders give the exact same cues all the time.

 

  • Something else (danger or getting out of sight of a herd member) has a higher priority. They can simply have missed your cue because of that.

 

  • The behaviour has not been reinforced enough (they lack motivation) or
  • other behaviour is more reinforcing

 

  • The are physically unable (anymore). Maybe they have pain or are tired.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAHorses don’t think in ‘winning or losing’ they act on ‘surviving or getting killed’. They spook because they are afraid, not because they are ‘out to get you’ or ‘want to avoid work’ or ‘are acting out’.

I wish riding instructors would explain more about the natural behaviour based on facts/scientific research to their students and not on century old hear-say.

Horses don’t have to be dominated in order to let them cooperate, they will cooperate freely if they benefit from it. Thankfully more and more people discover the power of the use of positive reinforcement training: it works extremely well and it gives the trainer a good feeling too.

More about positive reinforcement in the next article.

What myths have you heard in riding lessons that you wish are not being taught to riders? Please share.

Sandra Poppema, BSc.
Are you struggling with applying clicker training under saddle? Visit my website to book an online consult. I will be honoured to help you and your horse out. I’ve 2 decade experience with teaching equestrians to ride and train their horses in a horse-friendly way.

Read more in this series The 5 Essentials of Good Riding lessons

Part I: Independent seat
Part II: Schoolmasters
Part IV-a: Positive reinforcement (horses)
Part IV-b: Positive reinforcement (riders)
Part V: Attention for the horses emotions

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How to change ‘bad behaviour’ in horses quickly

There is one very effective way to change all horses that are stubborn, dominant, don’t listen, know what to do, but refuse to obey, know their job but don’t do it, are a wuss or are playing us.

Circle of influence

One solution
What? One solution for so many bad behaviours? Yes!

It is simple too. Change your attitude about the horse.

How would that work? Well, if you label your horse as ‘dominant’ or ‘stubborn’ it sounds like it isn’t your fault, but it also sounds like you can’t influence it. But you can. You can influence his behaviour! It’s called ‘training’.

You can only change things that are in your circle of influence. You can start changing your thoughts. If you change your thoughts in a way that can help you help the horse, suddenly there is no ‘stubborn’ horse anymore. If you can see that he is not stubborn, you can ask yourself questions like:

Why did he do that?
Was he afraid?
What is his motivation? Is he getting away form something or does he want to go somewhere?
What emotions did the horse displayed?
How can I prepare my horse better next time?

You have to take responsibility, which can be scary. The flip side is in this way you empower yourself! You are looking for things you can influence. Isn’t that great? In this way you train the horse, if he is successful, the trainer was too. Unfortunately it is not really accepted to brag about your success as horse trainer, but don’t let that ruin your pride.

One of the things that I like in reward-based training, is that you have to take the horses’ perspective into account. His emotions, his behaviour and his motivation are very important. It is never the horses’ fault anymore and you never have dominant or stubborn horses.

circle of influence

Sandra Poppema
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How to … Listen to Horses

Have you ever had the experience that you followed your horses’ lead and you found out something unexpected?

A story
One day my clients horse was very obstructive. He wouldn’t let her mount, he kept walking away and when she finally managed -with a lot of patience- to sit down, he bucked. That was a bit out of character, so I asked her to dismount. The moment she did, her stallion immediately acted much nicer.

I asked her a lot of questions: did she know why he was suddenly bolting? Could he be sore from the day before? Did something change in the herd? Could one of the mares be in heat? And so on. Alle the answers were ‘No’. We decided to check his saddle. In the meanwhile I asked if she had done something out of the ordinary. She said: I saddled him in the outdoor arena. I put my saddle on the (wooden) fence. We checked his saddle and we found a huge splinter/piece of wood in his saddle pad that was bothering him. We got rid of the splinter, saddled the stallion and all problems where gone instantly.

We want friendship, partnership and to be a team with our horse. We always want the horse to listen to us. But shouldn’t we listen as often to our horse as the horse listens to us in a friendship? We are a team, right? Is your partner or team member allowed to vote or have a voice?

_hippologic_talking to the horse

First sign your horse wants to talk to you
‘Disobedient’. If your horse needs to tell you an important message, he always will act differently. That is his only way to communicate he needs to tell you something important. I put the word disobedient between quotation marks because I don’t believe in disobedient horses. I do believe they have good reasons not to please us, if they do. ‘Listening’ to your horse isn’t listening. It is observing your horse. He is not ‘telling’ you his message, he communicates it through body language and actions. Remember that.

How to ‘listen’
OK, I actually mean ‘How to observe, so you can get the message‘. First, let go of your own agenda! What!? Yes!

Think about what you want from your horse when he is ‘not listening’ and he is trying ‘to speak to you’, then let your agenda go for a moment. You are not ‘losing’ anything when you give up your goal in that moment. You can only win. The horse wins. It will be a win-win situation. That will strengthen the team spirit.

Focus on what your horse needs in that moment. Open your mind. Focus on what you know about horses natural behaviours and needs. He needs safety, clarity, health, his herd and so on. What do you see: Does he wants to flee, does he freeze, what does he wants to do if you let him? What clues is he giving you?

Give your horse responsibility
Let your horse ‘talk’ to you by giving him a bit more freedom to see where he is leading you. What does his strange behaviour tell you? Can you think of a reason? Focus on his needs. If he is bucking, check the saddle, the saddle pad, the girth, his back and so on. Does he refuse to go into the arena? Where does he want to go?

Figure it out
Try to think of reasons why he doesn’t want to do what you want him to do. Especially when he normally doesn’t act this way. What has changed since the last time you asked this specific thing you want him to do? Did you change something? Did you do something you normally wouldn’t do? Do you think this is related? Can you check that?

Accept ‘not knowing’
Sometimes you don’t know the answer(s). So you can ask your horse again to follow your lead. If he still doesn’t want to please you, follow your gut. Not your ego. Your ego can’t stand that you don’t know the answer to the questions ‘What is wrong, my dear?’, so it will urge you to make decisions that makes ‘you look right’ (make the horse obedient).

Breathe, check in with your gut feeling. Just take a moment or two if you need to. Accept that you might not know the answer, sometimes you will never know. You only will know you did the right thing by listening to your horse and changed your plans or goal for that day. Sometimes you’re lucky and Captain Hind Sight makes it clear to you. Then you will be very pleased that you listened to your horse, not to other people.

Examples
I have hundreds of examples of listening to horses messages. What are your horses’ stories? I’d love to hear them.

Related posts
What to do if your horse doesn’t listen? (A question about Clicker training)
How to build a relationship with our horse
Recipe for a Magical Bond
Keeping an open mind is a challenge

Sandra Poppema
For tailored advise, please visit my website and book a personal consult today!

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What to do if your horse doesn’t listen? (A question about Clicker training)

I get that question a lot lately. A horse has to to what the riders asks, is a motto most riders have. Otherwise he is ‘testing you’, ‘disobedient’ , ‘disrespecting you’ or ‘he will become the leader’ and what not. Not my horse!

The other day at the barn someone said to me: “You do Natural Horsemanship, right. So if your horse doesn’t listen to you, you don’t have much you can do…”. That was an interesting remark.

First of all, I try to not be associated with Natural Horsemanship anymore. The way I KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAmotivate and train horses is the opposite: I add rewards. All the NH methods I know use negative reinforcement (adding a reversive first and taking the aversive away as soon as the animal responds in the proper way). This method is also known as Escape Learning or Avoidance Learning. I did that, been there, not doing it again… Why?

I discovered a method even more powerful and more reliable to train my horse and bond with her: positive reinforcement. Adding a reward if the horse shows the wanted behaviour.

Secondly, if my horse doesn’t ‘do as I ask’ That means I have a job to do: find out why.

Since I shifted to 100% clicker training I never use ‘increasing pressure’ anymore. What a relief! I never liked using my whip or ‘phase 4 with my carrot stick’. http://meetville.com/quotes/author/b-f-skinner/page2

I don’t feel that she is ‘testing me’ in a negative way, ‘disrespecting me’, ‘trying to become the leader’, ‘disobedient’ and what not. Why? Simply because I removed those expressions out of my equestrian vocabulary, because I don’t believe these myths anymore.

Since I emerged myself into the way animals learn and what motivates them (learning theory of B.F. Skinner), there is no need for me to use reversives like accumulating pressure, pain or the threat of accumulating pressure.

I also don’t use punishment anymore to ‘teach a horse’, because now I know punishment is meant to stop a behaviour/undesired behaviour, not teach a better behaviour.

When I was making the video of Kyra and me cantering with a flag, she didn’t want to canter at first. That is so unlike her. I take this sign seriously, because I want a two-way communication with my horse. So yes, that means that she is allowed to an opinion. Even if it can be inconvenient sometimes.

When she doesn’t do what I ask her to do, I ask myself: ‘Did I asked the wrong question or did I asked the question wrong?” If she is still learning, I will check if I set the situation up for success and ask myself what I can do to improve. Note here that I am not focusing on “who is wrong”, I am focusing on what can be improved. That what you focus on, becomes bigger.

10257887_10152623850498526_3537015314743681404_n

This poster is made by http://www.doggiedrawings.net/

Anyway, I found a friendly way to ask Kyra to canter for me. She did it and I gave her a big jackpot. That is the biggest reward you have. In this case: dismount her, get rid of her saddle and allow her to take a nice roll.

I found out that she is changing teeth (molars) and she might have had a headache or felt not well altogether. I always find out later what was going on if my horses didn’t want to work for me. Horses always have a good reason.  Mostly pain-related or they spot (real) danger. That’s my experience.

Have you ever experienced something similar? That a horse didn’t want to do something and that you found out later what their reason was? Please share your story below.

Sandra Poppema

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